The Paradoxes of Gen Y

I helped someone a few days ago prepare for a big meeting with a bunch of Gen Yers, and made a Mind Map about what Gen Yers want from a leader. I remembered the time I recruited almost all of the Procurement Center for EMEA at P&G, about 200 young, charismatic, exceptional, but loud and self-centered Gen Yers. Then I remembered how I myself was (and in some ways still am) pretty much all of those things.

At 70 million count, Gen Y are the largest workforce population shaping the organization cultures around the world. They (or should I say “We”)  proved to be a distinct population, with clear mindset, preferences and consumer behaviors. No wonder studies are being conducted, researches done, workshops held, and the knowledge database is growing every day. Everyone is paying attention to what these young people want. They are called “the future”.


But what do Gen Yers really want? 


As a Gen Yer myself, I vouch for this: we crave recognition, pats on the back and admiration. Just look at how we count our followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook to measure popularity.

At work, recognition is a measure just as good as any other to give us value. Whether in cash, public applause, celebrations or 1:1 praise, recognition is extremely important for a young professional who’s just looking to get noticed.


Gen Y’ers are extremely independent – they are able to take their backpacks and roam the world alone. They can do anything with just the touch of a button (as long as there’s wifi!) BUT they will love the thought of sharing this with other people.

Although we never like to be “put in a box” – it questions our individual uniqueness – we love clubs, cliques, groups. Just look at (again!) Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest. Gen Yers prefer to gather with other people similar to them (never say JUST like them!) to work on topics of common interest. Put them on a task force. Give them a club to run. They will thrive.



As you might have noticed, we love novelty. We’re good at getting on top of new technology, really fast.
However, we’re also pretty good at our own personal learning. We love feedback; we need to be told what we’ve done right and wrong, how can we improve and how to do that (that’s why we read blog posts such as this one :) ).

If you  check  what Gen Yers look when they choose a job, Training or Career Changes are at the top of the list.

As a matter of fact, we’re so focused on learning new things, fast, that sometimes we don’t allow the new learning to sit and integrate with our internal system. We escalade the ladder, and without looking at the view from the top, we move to the next mountain; which then allows for only a superficial scratch at the surface of real learning experiences.

On this note and insisting on the paradox aspect, Alexandra Campbell of sent me an interesting infographic about the unpreparedness of students for college.

Don’t you think that it’s quite intrigueing, that students who’re able tograsp technology and novelty quite fast, miss out on their most thorough academic experience?

Looking at my country’s situation, where 90% of young people have University degrees (and where the public system is better than the private one), I can say only that perhaps, Gen Yers prefer another type of learning than the academic one:  the pragmatic one, the hands-on approach; the “let’s backpack through the world and get real life experiences instead of reading about them” approach.

And maybe when the schooling system will be run by Gen Yers, it will adapt to its inhabitants, not the other way around.


To me, flexibility is yet another paradox – Gen Yers clearly put a lot of emphasis on personal life and balance with work; they want to be able to work from home and build their career around their life, not the other way around.

However, they want stability as well. Even if adaptable, Gen Yers prefer to know how things are going; they want to know what to expect, and if possible, they want to be able to have less complications.

Penelope Trunk, who wrote a few brilliant articles about Gen Y and who is quite outspoken (read this, this and this) also believes that Gen Yers are quite conservative, if you look at their career preferences.



Now on leadership.

Gen Yers have a lot of personal leadership – they get organized, shift their lives, learn a lot about themselves and others, question the status quo and are able to change (well, faster than the older generations anyway).

But they like to be lead.

They love to be lead by someone who inspires them (Steve Jobs, anyone?)

And they go over the top when the inspiring leader is also a human with flaws, who admits them openly. Because Gen Yers are also empathetic and (sometimes) quite spiritual, and they appreciate the power of vulnerability, that makes them feel connected with other human beings. And they will jump aboard on a mission with someone who isn’t afraid to show himself as he is, but whose vision sets him apart.


So in the end, if you’re part of Gen Y, what do you think? Does it fit into who you are? How would you like to be lead?

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